finding forgotten objects in congress theater's crawlspaces and plenum chambers

theater ticket stubs found on the plenum floor. note the earlier one locate in the top left corner. very little pertaining to the theater itself has been found - unlike the lawndale theater for example, where i found several programs and coat check cards dating back to 1927 when that theater opened.

for months now, the developer has been incredibly generous by allowing me to repeatedly access and photograph congress theater (1926). any and all images taken during the course of the theater's transformation will be copied and handed over to him to use as he sees fit - much like my two year photographic study of the chicago athletic association building's transformation into a historically sensitive boutique hotel.

images courtesy of eric j. nordstrom and the bld. 51 museum photo archive.

this past weekend i shifted gears (my approach there continually evolves when i become fixated on a new discovery), devoting more time documenting congress theater's concealed cavities and crawlspaces, driven in part by a steady stream of discoveries revolving around forgotten objects left behind by tradesmen and moviegoers since the theater opened in 1926.

this package of chewing/smoking tobacco was found under the wooden catwalk wrapping around the dome's second tier.

a bowman dairy company bottle - left by a tradesman in 1926 - was found resting against roof truss i-beam. the machine mold milk bottle with flared lip, clearly had not been disturbed since the time it was left there.


it's unbelievably time-consuming sifting through piles of decades old rubbish, not to mention torturous to the back from squatting for hours while slowly navigating through the darkened plenum chambers and cramped spaces above the foyer ceilings. despite this, i find it amazingly rewarding to loose myself in the past, where i feel most at peace with myself.

plenum chamber located under the auditorium balcony level seating.

there are hundreds of openings or sleeves in the auditorium and balcony floors, designed to deliver clean, temperature-controlled air controlled by cast iron floor registers or "mushrooms" located under every other seat. some are clean, while many others are packed with refuse. with so many unanswered questions spinning around in my head as i sort through and set aside wrappers, matchbooks, buttons, bus or train passes and ticket stubs, i having an uncontrollable urge to carve out time to tackle a pile of printed articles on theater supply and exhaust systems provided by the "ventilating division" of chicago's health department written in the first part of the early 20th century. hopefully i will be able to put together a more cohesive post on movie palace ventilation and sanitation in the very near future.

sidenote: when i returned to an area where i found blueprint fragments and two whiskey hip flasks caked in plaster, i happened across a woman's purse resting against duct-work running above a foyer ceiling. thankfully i brought help this time, so together, oso and i climbed down into a compartment behind the lobby staircase. there we secured the purse and a few milk bottles (mid-1920's bowman dairy company bottles) laying nearby. after grabbing boxes of candy wrappers, bottles, camera equipment, and lighting, we took a break in the lobby where we managed to carefully pry open the purse (the clasp was rusted shut). oso recorded while i gently removed the contents, including a rosary, bus pass, lipstick tubes, lithographed steel anacin tin, pens and pencils eyeglass case, oversized "kelvyn park" button, and other odds and ends. identification and wallet/money were conspicuously absent, possibly suggesting the purse was stolen and ditched behind the wall. how the hell else would it have landed there? the bottles - dating from the 1920's, were from the tradesmen, but the purse? there is the address book, so i hope it provides sufficient information to track down the owner (assuming she is still living) and return what was taken from her decades ago.


the images below represent some of the carefully cleaned and documented "finds" from the theater's hidden plenum chambers and attic.


additional images added on 3-20-2017:

more to follow...


From the blog